What Time Is It?

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? – Robert William Lamm, singer, songwriter and founder of the band Chicago

During a 1992 presidential debate with Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and businessman Ross Perot, President George H.W. Bush was caught on camera looking at his watch. The press and the Democrats jumped all over him. Did he have someplace better to be? Was he impatient? Was he bored? Did he not care about the real concerns of the average Americans in the audience?

I stopped wearing a watch about three years ago. I had worn a Breitling for about 15 years (an engagement gift from my in-laws) and had switched to an Apple Watch a few years ago. I stopped wearing the Breitling after it broke and I was too cheap to fix it (note: fixing a fancy watch is more expensive than some fancy watches). I stopped wearing the Apple Watch because it constantly needed charging and would not synch with my I-phone.

But there is another reason why I stopped wearing a watch. As a professional speaker, I never want to be caught in a “George Bush debate” moment by glancing at my watch during a presentation. My goal is to be hyper-focused, which means getting into an almost trance-like state of clear thinking, and I want nothing to distract me. More importantly, my goal is to get the same focus from the audience.

Getting your own focus right is hard, and getting the audience engaged is even harder in the era of personal electronic devices. Given that we perform in short-attention-span theater, anything—including one glance at your watch—can distract the audience.

Have I gotten some comments that my lack of wearing a watch is “unfashionable?” Yes, which I always answer with the famous Billy Crystal “Fernando” line that I suppose you think “it is better to look good than to feel good.”

My point: If you want to engage an audience—on stage, at a meeting or in a political debate—you must think about the details. Having the best presentation content, the slickest slides or best videos will help, but “casting the engagement spell” requires thinking about signals you are sending through body language. When you are in front of an audience, you need to make them feel that they are the most important people in the world, and that all your attention is on them so you have a fighting chance they will return the favor.

Focus on your audience and lose the watch. You will look marvelous! Thank you, Fernando.

By Spencer Levy, Americas Head of @CBREResearch | Senior Economic Advisor